Building background knowledge is like building a bridge. It’s meeting your students where they are and then continuing to build on what they already know. Eventually you guys will keep building until you reach mastery and that bridge is completely constructed. It is a crucial part of learning and helps students make meaningful connections so they can retain the information we give them.
In this post, you’ll learn just how important it is to build background knowledge and how we can do it in engaging ways! So let’s get to it!!
Why This Matters
Taking the time to activate prior knowledge makes learning easier, more meaningful for students and it stimulates interest in what’s to be learned. Not to mention it boosts motivation because of how excited children are to share tons of information they already possess about a topic.
Building background knowledge for students helps them make connections to new information AND, fun fact, it can greatly improve their reading comprehension too. In a very highly recommended book, The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler, she talks about how important it is to activate background knowledge with students. She shares a staggering piece of information- if groups of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were exposed to the same amount of background knowledge and essential vocabulary that peers from higher economic status had, it would level the playing field and they would perform just as well as everyone else. How mind blowing is that?
Something as small as having a vocabulary rich discussion to build background knowledge can help close large achievement gaps. I think that’s motivation enough for us as educators to really hone in on this during every lesson. If you’re interested in more about why it’s important and research to support it, check out THIS article from Reading Rockets.
Ways To Build Background Knowledge
There are several ways to build background knowledge that are SUPER simple. You can easily incorporate these things into your daily classroom routine and it can make a huge difference. Here are 7 great ways to do so:
Chart It- Create an easy circle map with students to brainstorm what they already know about the topic at hand.
Bridge Your Learning- Take explicit time at the beginning of each lesson to connect what they already know to their new learning.
Graphic Organizers- Utilize these visual aids for capturing and making meaning of their learning.
KWL Charts- Know, Wonder, and Learn charts help students share what they already know about a topic, things they wonder about the topic, and what new learning they have. You can use sticky notes to make this chart reusable and more interactive for each student! Grab an KWL Anchor Chart FREEBIE below!
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Hands On Opportunities- Teaching about plants? Bring in some plants or even plant something with students to touch and feel! Teaching about a specific animal? Have a virtual field trip or have an expert come in and talk about that animal. Bring in hands-on opportunities to further deepen understanding!
Cross-Curricula Connections- Oftentimes connections can be made across content areas. Don’t be afraid to add in some math to your science lesson, or history into your reading because those connections help students learn in a well rounded way and to have multiple points of knowledge when recalling a new skill or topic.
Use Vocabulary- Developing a broad vocabulary and building background knowledge go hand in hand so always use a plethora of words when talking with and to your students. It is SO important to activate schema before diving into a new text and vocabulary plays a huge role. If students have the vocabulary and the background knowledge, they can read ANYTHING. Learn more engaging and easy ways to teach vocabulary to your students HERE!
Put It In Practice
So now that we know what it is, why it is important, and some strategies to implement it, what does it look like in action?
Building background knowledge isn’t just talking about topics, but also immersing students into experiences. The goal is to truly help students understand what they are learning about. Allow students to show what they are interested in and learn about it. Make those connections and allow students to really experience topics and skills we teach.
When reading the Knowledge Gap, she talks about a classroom of students who were fascinated with mummies. The teacher allowed students to dive into different texts, participate in various experiences, and gradually they built each other’s background knowledge. It was the perfect connection to their science unit but most importantly, it gave students something to remember forever. They’ll recall facts they learned with passion and be excited to teach others all they know. As an educator, that’s a pretty big win for us!
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I hope you enjoyed learning all about how and why to teach background knowledge to your students and make it apart of your literacy routine. These are CRUCIAL life skills for students! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the KWL Anchor Chart FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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